Calliflower: A Complete Conference Calling Service

Six years ago, when I wanted to make a conference call involving five participants, Bell Canada wanted to charge me $0.55 per minute per participant, resulting in a $165 cost for a one hour call. All those participants had to be in North America and a conference call operator was involved. The moderator could try to “chair” the session but there were limited ways to actually manage who spoke. Any archiving of the session would rely on participants’ handwritten or typed notes.

Flash forward to today: iotum has analyzed the entire set of processes required for managing and moderating a voice conference call from scheduling and invitation to final archiving of the call for future reference. And they have researched today’s communications infrastructure, including web services and low cost voice connections.

They have executed on iotum CEO and co-founder Alec Saunders’ Voice 2.0 Manifesto. Today they are announcing the launch of their enhanced Calliflower Conference Call service – a fully interactive, complete voice conference call service that has been in beta for over a year.

From Alec’s launch post on SaundersLog:

Users have told us that their overwhelming unmet need was not to have another point solution, but to have a single tool that could manage these complex Active Conversations. And when we looked at the market, most of the innovations being introduced are actually isolated features in search of integration solution — coordination, the audio call itself, document sharing, and text messaging to name a few examples.

Originally developed as a Facebook application, they recently provided direct Calliflower portal access from the web. With today’s announcements CalliFlower is offering Premium services such as document sharing, enhanced worldwide “local” calling access and business administrator support. To top off their announcement, Calliflower goes mobile with an iPhone application that provides full access to these calls.

So what comprises the complete interactive conference call experience?

  • Prior to the call: Scheduling and invitations. Reminders via SMS or email. Low cost or free access for participants. Identification of participants calling in via either a PIN number or mobile number callerID.
  • During the call: A call-specific web page that displays an agenda, call participants, an interactive chat window, while allowing hand raising, muting, call recording and document sharing.
  • After the call: not only is the recording archived but also the entire call web page for recall of, say, URL’s given out in the chat window or the recording itself.

The cost to participants? Simply the cost of reaching an access point.

Previously the Calliflower calls could be reached by calling a number in Minnesota or France using the PSTN, SkypeOut or a couple of other softphone VoIP services. Going forward iotum will also be using Voxbone’s newly launched iNum service, initially providing free access to a +883 number from any of Voxbone’s iNum Service Provider Partners or via 55 iNum local access points worldwide.

The heart of the Calliflower service is its use of dynamic interactive web services as the backbone to the features described above.

During the call all participants can access the call’s web page “portal” for a fully interactive call experience as described above. The moderator can mute individual participants when the kids are crying or dogs are barking in the background. Having used the service many times during the beta period I found the combination of the web page’s feature set changes the overall dynamics of a conference call and significantly enhances the participants’ conference call experience.

callifloweriphone01180pxOnce completed the call recording and web page are available for recall by any of the participants or anyone else registered with Calliflower who may want to review the call. Recordings can be inserted into websites or weblogs, such as Alec does with his SquawkBox Conference Calls that periodically discuss technology industry developments.

The iPhone application (available shortly at the Apple App Store) provides full access to your calls, whether scheduled, during a call or in the past. Past call recordings and chat walls can be readily listened to or read. One “future” feature that that still requires development is the creation of calls from the iPhone.

Basic Calliflower Conference Calls will be free; while the Premium service is priced at the special introductory price of $50 per month, for two organizers, with a no-risk 30-day free trial period, until Jan. 1, 2009. Additional organizers cost $25 per month each.

We have seen the rise of many conference calling services over the past year, based on lower cost communications network architectures incorporating VoIP. However, typically they simply make the call connections or have a limited set of features. Having used the beta Calliflower service many times over the past 12 months I have been able to witness its evolution into this complete interactive voice and web service resulting in a unique conference call participant experience (and there are still a few nifty features to come).

My costs for accessing these many calls over the past few years: the $2.95 per month SkypeOut subscription charge (which lets me also make unlimited calls to within North America). And I never need a PIN code; Calliflower recognizes that my SkypeOut CallerID is also my registered mobile phone number CallerID. This allows me to also access Calliflower calls from my BlackBerry using iSkoot which cannot recognize touch tones required for PIN numbers.

Definitely worth giving it a try, not simply for the cost saving but especially for the value-add it brings to the entire conference call user experience.

Jim Courtney is an Associate Editor of Skype Journal.